Five things you should know about JP Cloutier, Notre Dame High School’s principal

JP poses for a photo next to lockers.
Jean Paul (JP) Cloutier is the Principal at Notre Dame High School. Photo by Charlie Senack.

By Charlie Senack

When Jean Paul (JP) Cloutier walks into a room at Notre Dame High School, students know they have a trusted mentor in their circle.

Cloutier has been principal at the school for about four years, acting as a vice principal at St. Pius X High School and St. Joseph High School before that. 

In 2002, Cloutier started his educational career at Holy Trinity High School in Kanata, teaching photography and art. The principal said being a role model and positive influence has always been part of his identity. 

“I have an interest in leadership,” he told KT. “For my whole life in any job I’ve had, from working at a grocery store to summer camps, I’ve always worked my way into a management position at some point. I love working with people, problem solving, and collaborating. These are things that really drove me.”

Notre Dame is considered a smaller school in the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB). It has 687 students in grades seven to twelve, and a staff of about 80. Despite its small size, Cloutier said they are a driving force for activities to fit all students’ needs. 

Through his career in education, it was a place he always wanted to call home. 

“We don’t really get a choice necessarily, they place us where they feel we are a best fit,” said Cloutier. “But this was always the school I wanted to come to first. I had been here a few times previously for different activities and met some of the staff. I knew it would be a good fit. This place feels like a home instantly. The staff is very welcoming.”

When he’s not within the four walls of Notre Dame, Cloutier is busy with his family. The dad of two, Solomon, 15, and Sadie, 13, said he spends weekends at hockey rinks and fits in a good book when time allows. 

While Cloutier said he’s an open book, here are five things you may not know about the Notre Dame Principal and his involvement in the school community.

1. Cloutier brought an alternative to suspension program to the OCSB

When a parent used to get a call stating their child had been suspended from school, options were limited for discipline. 

One day Cloutier stumbled upon an article talking about an alternative to suspension program run by the YMCA. It operates within Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, and is designed for students who are suspended for three to five days. 

Cloutier thought it would be a good program to bring to the board. 

“The outcomes we are seeing are excellent,” he said. “The goal of the program is to reduce reasons for referral behaviors, to keep students in school, to keep students attending and connected to school.”

When students attend the program, they will work on school work in the morning and will work with a councillor in the afternoon to talk about the behaviours which led them to be suspended in the first place. 

In some cases, parents will also ask that their child attends the program before they get suspended. 

“There was a grade 7 student we had seen in the office fairly frequently. We offered the program, he went, and we haven’t seen him in the office since,” Cloutier said. “The program really works.”

2. Notre Dame is a leading school for challenge-based learning.

Like many schools in the OCSB, Notre Dame is a champion when it comes to challenge-based learning, a framework which allows students to address sustainable development goals. 

It’s an opportunity for students to investigate a big idea of their own creation and create a solution they feel connected to. The initiative is led by teacher Greg Zapasek. 

“They have worked with all kinds of organizations and non-governmental organizations through these class lessons. Sienna Technology and Digital Promise are our two partners,” said Cloutier. “They provide funds and resources in terms of working directly with engineers, project managers, all sorts of people.”

Recently, students started their own social enterprise by crafting handmade soap with little animals and seaweed-like plants inside. The goal was promoting saving the oceans on our planet and to support True North Aid’s water project.

Many students pose for a photo with JP. Lockers are seen in the background.
JP Cloutier is a trusted mentor for students at Notre Dame High School. Photo by Charlie Senack.

3. The Notre Dame Principal is an artist.

Cloutier is a professionally trained artist, attending Western University in London, Ont. to study the craft. 

“I thought I was going to be a professional artist and I think I was lying to myself,” he joked. “It wasn’t until the second or third year of university where I admitted to myself that I was lying. I knew I was meant to be a teacher. I went to teachers college and love the fact that I have.”

While Cloutier has had a successful career in education, he also has a long list of accomplishments in his “former life” as a photographer. 

“I shot weddings, worked on movie sets, met some celebrities for magazines,” Cloutier said. “I got to take pictures of John McAfee, Ice Cube, Snoop Dog, George Stroumboulopoulos, a Princess (who’s name escapes him) and a plastic surgeon.”

4. Cloutier’s primary goal is equity work.

One of the tasks teachers at Notre Dame right now are focusing on is culturally responsive teaching. 

Cloutier said it’s important we all address and acknowledge our bias, so put falls can be avoided. 

“We have to understand our students [and] how they learn best through what their needs and interests are to avoid and minimize any negative response that prevents us from developing a strong relationship with the students,” he said. “Once we have those things in place, then the learning will really be rich and students will be engaged.”

JP speaks with four students during lunch.
JP Cloutier speaks with students during lunch on Jan. 18, 2024. Photo by Charlie Senack.

5. Notre Dame is internationally recognized.

One of the outcomes Cloutier is most proud of is the fact that Notre Dame and the work they are doing is being recognized across the globe. 

Last year, teachers from Australia, the Netherlands, Peru and the United States visited the Carlingwood area school to learn about their initiatives. 

“It’s kind of humbling for a small school to recieve so much attention,” said Cloutier. “It’s a deep learning school in a deep learning board so that’s part of the interest. They want to see it in action.”

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